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FBOE member: Next Florida education commissioner needs “a lot of autonomy”

As the Florida Board of Education ramped up its search this morning for a new state education commissioner, one of its board members offered a polite suggestion to Gov. Rick Scott and Florida lawmakers: Give the next commish some space.

“I think all of us, the board and the political establishment, needs to understand that we need to give that person a lot of autonomy so that they can function professionally with minimal interference from the political folks,” said board member Roberto Martinez of Miami (pictured here). “I say that respectfully to our elected officials.”

The board is looking to replace Gerard Robinson, who left last week after little more than a year on the job. The next commissioner will be Florida’s fifth in eight years, not counting interim commissioners.

Technically, the state board of education hires the commissioner. Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 to make the board responsible for that decision, in an attempt to keep education policy better insulated from shifting political winds. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

After his election in 2006, former Gov. Charlie Crist nudged out former Education Commissioner John Winn, who was close to former Gov. Jeb Bush. The board replaced Winn with Eric J. Smith. But after Scott was elected in 2010, Smith was out, clearing the path for Robinson. Robinson abruptly announced his resignation July 31, saying he needed to return to his family in Virginia.

The board expects to have a list of candidates on Sept. 27. More from the Tampa Bay Times here.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at